Taking Title as a Married Couple

What is a marriage?  A contract.  You do not necessarily think about the legal ramifications at the wedding, but who inherits the house if one of you dies, or who gets the house in the case of a divorce?  You can fix that with a prenuptial agreement, you can fix the contract.    However, just because it is a contract does not mean it is enforceable.  Talk to an attorney and figure out how to make it enforceable. Getting married can change your life.  It can also change how you hold property title.  So you and your boyfriend bought a house together and took title as Tenants in Common.  The only unity there is the Unity of Possession.  Either one of you can sell your interest in the house without notice to the other owner.  But if you get married, neither of you can break the tenancy nor otherwise convey the property without consent of the spouse. Married couples hold title as Tenants by Entirety.  This includes the unities of Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship plus the Unity of Marriage, which subscribes to the legal fiction that a married couple is one entity.  You cannot disinherit your spouse.  Your wife […] Read More

Probate Check

“Prostate” and “Probate” are two words you do not want to get confused.  If you are going in for a Probate Check, nobody needs a rubber glove. Probate is the way the court verifies a will, makes sure certain debts are paid, and oversees the distribution of a decedent’s property.  Probate ensures that the court does not take shortcuts in asset distribution. My theory on probate is, get in, take care of it, get out.  Probate is not a dirty word and it does not have to be expensive. Probate can take time, though.  In some cases, depending on the size of the estate, tax implications, and desires of the testator, probate-avoidance methods, including trusts and pre-death distributions, are appropriate.  However, I am not a fan of a rubber chicken dinner served to you in a hotel ballroom where they scare you into getting a trust. Not everybody needs a trust and not everybody needs a will.  Seek competent legal counsel to discuss your circumstances to make a plan that best suits your intentions.   Read More

Divorce & Estate Planning

If you cannot live with her, do you want her to get your house when you die?  This is where divorce can be part of estate planning. Not everybody needs a will, but if you die without a will while you are still married, your house goes to your spouse.  Even if your will was made before you got married, your spouse is still entitled to half your estate, the same as if you had died without a will. Some couples are “ABD” – All But Divorced – living in harmony separated from each other, but in Florida, unless they are divorced, they are still married.  Should one of them die without a will, that person’s assets get distributed by the State according to the legal formula of Intestate Succession.  Part of that formula is that the living husband or wife is entitled to the homestead property (unless there is a properly executed marital agreement). Divorce does not have to be expensive and it does not have to take a long time.  If both sides are ready to sit down and take the necessary steps to complete the procedure, then a divorce can be over and done with in about […] Read More

Free Legal Lecture May 8: “Is Probate A Dirty Word?”

Are you a man over 50?  Have you had your probate checked?  Do you need to? My theory on probate is, get in, take care of it, get out.  Probate does not have to be expensive and nobody needs a rubber glove.  You can learn more about probate and estate planning at the upcoming Legally Speaking lecture, “Is Probate a Dirty Word?” on May 8 at River House (179 Marine Street, St. Augustine, Florida).  Megan Wall, Managing Attorney for St. Johns County Legal Aid, will be the speaker for this FREE one-hour presentation which starts at 10:00 a.m. and is open to the public.   Read More

Celebration of Death?

Sometimes it is less of a funeral and more a celebration of death…depending on the person and depending on how that person’s will is executed. So you did not like Uncle Bobby and he did not like you.  If Uncle Bobby did not write a will and you were his closest living relative…you may stand to inherit his estate according to the process of Intestate Succession.  His neglect of estate planning could be your gain, regardless of how you felt about each other. When a person dies without a will, their assets get distributed by the State according to a legal formula.  Intestate Succession runs up to their grandparents and down their family tree until an appropriate heir(s) is/are found.  In the absence of a spouse or descendant, property can pass to a parent or sibling.  If there is none of the above, then a person who is a grandparent, aunt, uncle or first cousin may become a beneficiary. On the other hand, maybe you loved Uncle Bobby and he loved you, so much so that he wrote a will with you as his sole beneficiary (excluding his no-good children).  However, if he failed to execute his will properly, his […] Read More

Free Legal Lecture April 22 – “Should You Ever Put Someone Else’s Name on Your Deed?”

“It depends.”  That is my standard answer to many questions.  If you would like to learn more about what to consider in the question of your deed, the People’s Law School offers the free legal lecture titled, “Should You Ever Put Someone Else’s Name on Your Deed?” on April 22nd, presented by St. Johns County Legal Aid.  This FREE one-hour class starts at 4:00 p.m. at the Southeast Branch Library (6670 US 1 South, St. Augustine, Florida). For more information on St. Johns County Legal Aid and their services, go to www.jaxlegalaid.org.   Read More

Free Legal Lecture April 10 – “Do You Need a Will?”

So you have a house, a car, and some money.  Do you need a will?  Megan Wall of St. Johns County Legal Aid addresses this question in her Legally Speaking lecture April 10.  This FREE one-hour class starts at 10:00 a.m. at River House (179 Marine Street, St. Augustine, Florida) and is open to the public.  For more information, call (904) 209-3655.   Read More

Free Legal Lecture April 1: “Is Probate a Dirty Word?”

So you did not go to law school and you did not pass the Bar Exam.  No problem.  The People’s Law School continues in April with its series of legal lectures presented by St. Johns County Legal Aid.  The April 1st topic asks, “Is Probate a Dirty Word?”  This FREE one-hour class starts at 4:00 p.m. at the Southeast Branch Library (6670 US 1 South, St. Augustine, Florida). The People’s Law School schedule continues as follows: April 8 – “Landlord/Tenant Laws” April 22 – “Should You Ever Put Someone Else’s Name on Your Deed?” All classes are free and open to the public, and start at 4:00 p.m. at the Southeast Branch Library.  For more information on St. Johns County Legal Aid and their services, go to www.jaxlegalaid.org.   Read More

Valid Will

Where there is a will, I want to be in it, but only if it is witnessed by two people sitting in the same room with each other and with the testator.  If I am going to inherit money, I want to be a beneficiary listed in a valid will…and preferably one that is notarized. In the State of Florida, a will can be typed or handwritten, but in order for it to be valid, it must be signed in front of two witnesses who sign in the presence of each other.  (This rules out video or sound-recorded wills.)  Furthermore, a notary public can join in to make the will “Self-Proving,” meaning the validity of the witnesses should not be challenged when it is time to admit the will to probate. If you moved to Florida from another state, you may want to have your will reviewed by a Florida lawyer to make sure your will is executed properly according to Florida law.  You may have the best of intentions after your death, but they might not happen if you have a will that is not valid in this state. Seek competent legal counsel to discuss your estate planning goals, […] Read More

Probate Debate

“Probate” “Prostrate” “Prostate” “Prostitute” – Do NOT get these words mixed up, especially not in front of your wife. Probate is the way the court verifies a will, makes sure certain debts are paid, and oversees the distribution of a decedent’s property.  Probate ensures that the court does not take shortcuts in asset distribution. My theory on probate is, get in, take care of it, get out.  Probate is not a dirty word and it does not have to be expensive. Probate can take time, though.  In some cases, depending on the size of the estate, tax implications, and desires of the testator, probate-avoidance methods, including trusts and pre-death distributions, are appropriate.  However, I am not a fan of a rubber chicken dinner served to you in a hotel ballroom where they scare you into getting a trust. Not everybody needs a trust and not everybody needs a will.  Seek competent legal counsel to discuss your circumstances to make a plan that best suits your intentions.   Read More